The politics of exaggeration


At first look, West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee’s theatrics on the night of December 1 smacked of the politics of paranoia. Spying Army deployment at a toll plaza near the State Secretariat in Kolkata late that night, she drove herself into a sleepless social media frenzy to “guard our democracy”. Where the Army’s Eastern Command clarified that it was conducting a “routine exercise” to test preparedness, Ms. Banerjee insinuated otherwise by resolving to maintain her vigil at the Secretariat till the Army personnel were withdrawn from their task. Not given to being detained by facts, even after the Army cleared the air by clarifying it had duly informed State authorities about the exercise, Ms. Banerjee’s Trinamool Congress galvanised the Opposition in Parliament the next day. It kept up the high pitch from a previous uproar over delay in landing a civil aircraft that had her on board. Ms. Banerjee is too sharp, and well-versed with the procedures of administration, to not see through her own conspiracy theories. This is not paranoia speaking, it is a play-as-things-go plan to amplify her voice in national politics. The Modi government’s demonetisation drive has given her an opportunity to nominate herself as a rallying force. Projecting random occurrences — a queue for landing clearance at an overburdened airport one day, an Army drill the next — as instances of vendetta against her by the biggest powers that be helps her distinguish herself from the rest of the opposition as the leader in direct combat with the Central government.

This has, of course, been the way with Ms. Banerjee’s politics. In the years of Left Front rule, this is how she separated herself from older, established Congress colleagues. She, for instance, kept alive the memory of wounds sustained in a police crackdown. Once she struck out and formed her own party, she switched allegiance freely in national coalitions in the search for her big chance against the Left. It came in 2011, when Left rule ended in West Bengal; her pre-eminence in State politics was sealed in Assembly elections this year when she stared down the combined challenge of the Congress and the Left parties. Now, with the Congress still struggling to get a grip on the political narrative, and no other party able to provide the glue for opposition unity, she has seized the opportunity. Her tactics of exaggeration, of personalising the argument, are clearly aimed at securing herself as the face of the anti-BJP opposition, even as she goes about seeking old friends and foes alike to rally behind her. Today it is demonetisation. Tomorrow it may be something else. But the tenor of her politics is likely to hold.

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Printable version | Jan 25, 2020 7:21:16 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/editorial/The-politics-of-exaggeration/article16764992.ece

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